This is an opinion piece by Dele Sobowale.
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Nobody rides horses anymore. This is the age of Ferrari and Rolls Royce Phanthom. But, the idea remains the same. What people wish for; and what they get are frequently different. Asiwaju, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, thrust himself in the national limelight recently.
The initial reactions most definitely were quite different from his expectations. But, before going into the heart of today’s matter, permit me to relate a true story to which I was an eye-witness.
Among my work experiences was working in the international sales department of POLAROID CORPORATION – a Fortune 500 company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. I was among the people drafted to work during the Summer vacations in the holiday resorts of the Caribbean Islands – all 36 of them. Going on tourists’ fishing boats was a frequent part of the job. One day, sitting on the deck of one boat, I saw a ferry boat with passengers flying across the water. Suddenly, its engine sputtered and switched off. Carried by its momentum, the boat continued to move forward towards a reef, as if about to crash into it.
Then, it slowed down. But, one passenger, assuming a crash was imminent jumped into the water and started swimming vigorously away from the boat in distress. Again, suddenly, a strong ocean current whipped the boat around; its engine got temporarily started. In less than a minute, the swimmer collided with the propeller of the boat. In less than another minute, pieces of human flesh were floating on blood red water for fishes to feed on. The boat eventually went down, but most of the passengers were rescued – except the Captain and a few of the crew who still thought they could get it started again.
If Buhari needs any more proof that a lot of passengers are deserting the boat MV BUHARI, then the ill-disguised departure of Asiwaju should serve as a wake-up call.
Perhaps, it was a coincidence that Tinubu’s move came just as the President was packing his bags for another medical jamboree for which he excoriated his predecessors who enjoyed them. I have known for a long time that it is easy to be generous when you have nothing to give. He was a relatively poor contestant for office when he spoke. One minute in Aso Rock transformed him to billionaire status. Nigerian hospitals are no longer good for him. We know.
Tinubu had received a lot of flak since his 50 million Naira donation to Katsina State; his declaration that “Fulani and Yoruba are one”; and his political manifesto on economic recovery – especially recruitment of 50 million youths into the army. I will come to those shortly.
One thing I however find disturbing was the reactions of some of Tinubu’s critics to his stumbling and falling. Among them is a senior member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Lagos State. I found his delight absolutely distasteful. Anybody can fall. US President Joe Biden, stumbled and fell on the steps of USA AIR FORCE ONE. None of his opponents made fun of him. I am a firm believer in the philosophy of late Alhaji Waziri, the leader of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, during the Second Republic – “Politics Without Bitterness”. I am happy Tinubu got up and went on with the programme. I wish him well on that score. I fell last year about this time and was hospitalised for five months on account of prostate cancer. I know how it feels to suddenly find yourself on the floor in full view of other people. Nothing funny about it.
That said, I return to what I regard as Tinubu’s not so subtle declaration for the Presidency; and to warn him about the dangers ahead. I don’t wish him to collide with the propeller of MV BUHARI – which is destined for shipwreck. Right now, what Buhari and all those who helped him to bring the ship of state to this tragic situation are looking for is a scapegoat. They are in search of someone to carry the blame for the inevitable downfall of APC.
In that case Asiwaju has not done himself a favour. On the contrary, he had opened himself to attacks from all sides. And, very little support from anywhere. First, he had committed an unforgivable blunder for a Presidential candidate early in the game. Despite the spirited attempt to correct the “50 million” to five million, he has made himself the object of scorn. He will henceforth have to work twice as hard to erase the impression of a fumbler. The error was made probably because he had absolute trust in his speech writers. That, in itself is a mistake. No Chief Executive should ever step forward to read a speech that had not gone over – even until the last minute. The reason is simple. Once you utter the words, they become yours – not the speech writer’s. Perhaps, he would have spotted the error and corrected it. Unfortunately, that is the mildest criticism of the thoughts and ideas contained in the short document.
Some of the most important can be framed in a few questions. First, since Tinubu is aware that the APC government since 2015 till now has been “murdering” jobs instead of creating them, his proposal amounts to a rebuke of Buhari’s performance as President? Second, even if elected, Asiwaju will not be President until May 2023, why has he not considered it patriotic to let Buhari into the secret of job creation now and save “50 million” or “5 million” unemployed Nigerians from agony now? Third, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, 23 million Nigerians are totally unemployed; 36 million are under-employed. When you add what economists know from universal experience those who have given up searching for jobs, then you probably are looking at close to 75 million Nigerians in need of full-time employment in 2021. At the rate Buhari has been “murdering” jobs, the numbers in all three categories would have jumped significantly. How will creating 5 million jobs in 2023 solve the problem then? Fourth, for now, how did he arrive at the number of jobs to be created – irrespective of whether 50 million or 5 million? The last question is vital for a number of reasons.
“Promises, like pie-crusts are made to be broken.” Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745. That would appear to be the policy of the Buhari administration which Tinubu made possible; and for which he will be held partly responsible. Is the former Governor again aware that in 2017, the government launched the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, and promised to create 15 million jobs by 2020? Certainly, he now knows that the promise was totally unfulfilled. On the contrary, millions of jobs were lost during the period. Since his closest political associates have proved so untrustworthy, how does Jagaban expect Nigerians to believe his promises? “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are,” that remains the abiding principle for judging anyone. To expect Nigerians to believe his promises, Tinubu must make a total break from the government at Abuja and go on the offensive. Nothing else will do.
“Success is one percent inspiration and 99 percent hard work.” Edison, US inventor. As an economist, I happen to agree with Asiwaju that massive job creation is inevitable if Nigeria is to avoid deepening anarchy. But, several pertinent issues need to be considered. These include but are not limited to: How many? What type of jobs? Where? How will the jobs be distributed? How much to pay? How to raise the financial resources to pay those engaged?
If the most rudimentary study had been conducted and the report submitted to Asiwaju, he would not have committed the blunder of announcing 50 million jobs arbitrarily. Even now, the 5 million jobs promised remain the outcome of guesswork and wishful thinking. If Asiwaju really intends to lead Nigeria, he should employ an Economic Adviser to save himself from more embarrassments. His utterances will from that point on be research-based. He can even do better; and I know he can afford it. He should gather five experts and give them three months to come up with a guideline for his economic policy decisions. Then, his promises will no longer appear as ordinary politicians’ promises; which only fools will believe.